The ascension has been rapid: he is the youngest driver to score a point at 17 years, 180 days old in just his second race, and it would’ve been younger had his Renault power unit held on during the 2015 Australian GP. He became the youngest winner in F1 history one year later at the 2016 Spanish GP, winning on Red Bull debut at just 18 years, 228 days old. After his home victory earlier this season, he’s also the most successful driver to have not won a world championship, though that statistic is one he hopes not to hold by December.
Marko’s comparison doesn’t look so silly anymore.
Senna reached 17 race wins at the age of 29 during the 1989 campaign and was only starting out with Toleman aged 24. Verstappen is already contending for a championship against the most successful F1 driver of all time, though he’s not the first to face that prospect.
The last youngster to come along and topple a seven-time champion was Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard made his F1 debut at 20 with Minardi, spiritually the same team Verstappen debuted with.
Alonso was a race winner by 23, scoring his maiden win at the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix with Renault but it remained his only one until his title-winning 2005 season aged 25. Alonso reached the 17-win mark during the 2007 season when he was at McLaren in what was his seventh season. Verstappen has a similar strike rate so far, but has accomplished his wins well ahead of Alonso and other comparable drivers.
Kimi Räikkönen was another rookie in 2001 and, like Verstappen, had drawn criticism for being too inexperienced when he was signed to Sauber. When the Finn arrived on the scene in 2001, he had just two seasons of single seater experience aged 22.
Räikkönen secured points on his debut for the Swiss team and those doubts were cast aside, his speed clear for all to see. He was also called up to a bigger team in just his second year, joining McLaren for 2002. Unlike Verstappen though, Räikkönen would have to wait another year before he’d secure his maiden win in ’03 at 23 years-old.
Both were at a top team early in their careers and championship contenders by the time they were 24. For Kimi, he’d have to wait a few more years until 2007 to claim an F1 title.
One record that Verstappen can no longer swipe is F1’s youngest world champion. That accolade still belongs to Sebastian Vettel who took his maiden crown at 23 years, 134 days old.
The German debuted in 2007 with BMW Sauber and was a race winner a year later at 21 with Toro Rosso. His promotion to Red Bull for 2009 was a prequel to championship success in 2010 and the first of four consecutive titles, becoming the youngest multiple world championship winner with Red Bull.
By 24, Vettel was already a world champion, on the way to a second and had 16 race victories to his name, just one win short of what Verstappen has accomplished so far.
Likewise, Lewis Hamilton falls behind Verstappen’s total number of victories by the age of 24, 11 to 17 in the Dutch driver’s favour.
Hamilton was chosen and shaped by McLaren during the early years of his career in much the same way Verstappen was by Red Bull. At 22 and fresh from the GP2 crown, Hamilton was thrown in at the deep end. He took Alonso and Räikkönen to the brink and went within a point of a title in his rookie campaign.
He won his first world title at 23 at McLaren and was the first of his generation of drivers to win a title, ahead of Vettel and Nico Rosberg. Verstappen looks set to be the first driver from the group of future stars to win a title ahead of the likes of Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc.
By the end of the 2021 season, Verstappen will have been in Formula 1 for seven seasons. He will be closing in on halfway to Michael Schumacher’s 306.
Hamilton may have taken his 100th win and pushed the benchmark further than anyone thought possible, but at 24 and with a top team, Verstappen already has almost a fifth of that tally and has plenty of time to catch up.
Senna was just getting started at 24, Alain Prost was 25 when he entered F1 and Jackie Stewart 26. Verstappen is just 10 race victories back from Stewart’s total and 24 behind Senna and 34 off of Prost’s 51. It isn’t out of the realms of possibility that he cracks the top five for all-time wins before he hits 30.